Note: Although I do not specifically spoil anything about the movie, I do allude to a specific scene in the film. For those perfectionists out there who need to see a film untainted by such discussions, I would advise you to see the movie before reading. If not, or if you’ve seen the movie, by all means, please keep reading.
I’m really taken by surprise that more people have not commented on the fact that Spec. Eldridge is playing the video game “Gears of War” in one scene of The Hurt Locker. I think that this should be further examined, yet I haven’t seen anything that even talks about it in the reviews I’ve read. I don’t know why that is (perhaps those reviewing the movie haven’t played the game), but I think it requires further examination. It was obviously intentional. Eldridge could be playing any game at all, and yet he’s playing what some consider to be the most realistic war game ever. Realistic in the way it portrays combat, and puts you in the middle of fire fights, scrambling to find cover and hiding behind any object possible in order to survive.
There are a number of ways in which this could possibly be interpreted. Is war a game? I don’t know if this is the correct way to see the symbolism. It is perhaps the most simplistic way to interpret it, but I think it’s slightly off-base. It’s true that SSgt. James is the interpretation of the quote we see at the beginning of the film. For him, “war is a drug.” Video games, too, have an addictive quality to them. But considering how layered the rest of the symbolism in the film is, it seems too simplistic to simply say, “he’s playing a war game, which is a microcosm of the way that war is waged as a game by the generals and politicians in Washington.” I also think that this interpretation misses the point because Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal purposefully do not look at the war through a political lens.
It is perhaps telling, though, if we look at the fact that the character playing the game, Eldridge, is perhaps the most afraid of the three main characters, and perhaps the least prepared for being in the war itself. The scene unfolds with Eldridge going from playing the game to talking to the base doctor about his fears of dying, about the worth of his life. Perhaps playing a game about war is a sort of catharsis. Within the game, death is possible, but you can always press the reset button.
It is further of interest in that the game itself is titled “Gears of War.” Of course the average viewer who’s watching the film would probably not know that (maybe they would, I don’t know), but I think the title of the game also has a very strong meaning. The Hurt Locker is, in a sense, a film about war universally. How it affects the individual. For some, like Eldridge, it’s just about surviving to see the next day. For someone like James, it’s about the thrill of it all. The title “Gears of War,” when applied to The Hurt Locker, seems to me to indicate the gears that make war happen. If war is a drug as suggested, then those who find the thrill of war are in fact the gears of war.
But even if there is no definitive answer as to what the gears of war in fact are in the context of The Hurt Locker (and it is perhaps more fitting given the film that there is not), it leaves one questioning what they are. What is the cause of war? Why do we fight wars? Why do we continually get into conflicts such as the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan? And what makes them continue? It is impossible not to ask such questions.
It was obviously an intentional decision on Kathryn Bigelow’s part, and it’s one of those subtle inclusions that makes The Hurt Locker all the more powerful a film. There are deep layers to it that should be further examined and discussed, and although I know I’ve done a measly job of bringing to light this one, I hope that it creates further discussion.
If you have any thoughts, please comment. I would love to hear peoples’ responses.